Marshal Zhukov,‘The Best of the Best’
In researching his ground-breaking new portrait of the man who commanded the Soviet defence to Hitler, Albert Axell spent time in Russia, interviewing people close to Zhukov including his two eldest daughters.
The man who inflicted more decisive defeats against Nazi forces than anyone else, is also the least known in the West. Yet Georgi Zhukov (1896-1974), the Russian marshal who commanded the Red Army from 1941, was hailed in 1945 by US General, and later President, Dwight ‘Ike’ Eisenhower, as ‘the man to whom the United Nations owes a greater debt’ than to any other military figure, for his triumphs against Hitler’s armies.
Thick-set, with handsome features, pale blue eyes peering through rimless glasses, known as a social drinker, fine dancer and non-smoker, Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov was also regarded by many as brusque, coarse and stubborn, even excessively severe – an accusation frequently levelled at him during the carnage on the Nazi-Soviet Front. Doubtless, he was ruthless and often pitiless. Zhukov admitted being sharp-tongued but excused himself saying that when thousands of lives were in the balance and a huge operation was under way, there was little time for delicacy.
Off the battlefield, Georgi Zhukov was a loving father to his daughters. When he was able to come home for a day or two – usually after a breakthrough over the enemy had been achieved – he would relax and enjoy chattering about times with his wife and daughters, or put on a mock serious air and play a traditional Russian song on the accordion. In the autumn of 1941, Zhukov’s two teenage daughters Ella and Era visited him at his front line command post.
I asked these two charming and sophisticated ladies, in 2002, about Zhukov’s relations with Stalin and also about the heavy casualties in the war.